At first, there was Barbie

In a Might function in Vogue, Barbie director and co-writer Greta Gerwig cheekily in contrast Barbie and Ken to Adam and Eve. “Barbie was invented first,” she mentioned. “Ken was invented after Barbie, to burnish Barbie’s place in our eyes and on the planet. That type of creation fable is the other of the creation fable in Genesis.”

The quote snagged some consideration, partly as a result of Gerwig has performed with theological themes earlier than in her work — most notably in Woman Chook, through which Sister Sarah Joan borrows the knowledge of thinker and mystic Simone Weil to advise her titular cost. The Genesis comparability does sound a bit like a joke, although, at the least when utilized to plastic dolls. Within the Bible, God makes the primary man, Adam, from the mud of the bottom, after which knocks him out, takes his rib, and fashions it right into a companion for him: Eve, the primary girl. They dwell in an ideal world, the Backyard of Eden.

God has one command for his creations: They’ll eat the fruit of any tree within the Backyard besides one, the “Tree of the Data of Good and Evil.” Naturally, that’s what they do. (It’s humanity’s first failure within the “you had one job” division.) Instantly they understand they’re bare, they usually really feel ashamed, and after receiving a collection of curses having to do with labor (each of the agricultural and natal variety) they’re despatched out into the chilly, exhausting, not-so-paradisiacal world.

And that’s the story of why life sucks.

Whereas that’s not strictly the story of Barbie — a totally pleasant and sometimes gaspingly humorous film, by the best way — it seems Gerwig wasn’t simply having fun when she introduced up the creation fable within the Vogue interview. Barbie is totally, and roughly textually, a surprisingly sensible excavation of 1 interpretation of the textual content and its that means, in addition to the that means of Barbies as merchandise of tradition, the gender wars, and feminism extra broadly. You already know, typical blockbuster stuff.

There’s a historical past of filmmakers speaking an enormous recreation in terms of taking current mental properties (Marvel characters, say, or nostalgia sequels) and “saying one thing” with them. Sometimes it really works (see Black Panther or Rogue One). Extra usually it’s, at finest, fairly shallow; contemplate Ocean’s Eight or Captain Marvel or, wondrously, Cats, which director Tom Hooper described as being in regards to the “perils of tribalism.”

Barbie is just not the type of IP that naturally lends itself to cinematic and philosophical musings. However in Gerwig’s palms, alongside along with her co-writer Noah Baumbach, it’s sly and nearly as subversive as a film could be whereas nonetheless being produced by one in every of its targets (toy producer Mattel, which the film relentlessly tweaks over discontinued Barbies and Kens) and distributed by one other (Warner Bros. Discovery, which will get one expertly barbed zinger). Loaded with film references from the ’60s seaside celebration style to the trippy dream ballets of midcentury musicals — and, uh, Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A House Odyssey — it’s cinephile wish-fulfillment rolled in nerdiness and coated in pink sprinkles. Ought to Barbie be a smash hit, Mattel could want to replicate its success with different IP, however it’s exhausting to think about any future movies rising to Barbie’s stage of sheer cleverness, slightly than pure company pandering.

On the 2001 level: The film (like one in every of its trailers) begins on the very starting, with a scene ripped from Kubrick’s movie. In his, a tribe of apes in a barren prehistoric panorama study to make instruments after which are abruptly confronted by a large, mysterious, towering rectangular monolith. In Gerwig’s, a gaggle of little women outfitted solely with child dolls and tea celebration equipment are abruptly confronted with a large towering monolith of their very own: a curvy Barbie, which conjures up them to smash their boring child dolls. In voiceover, Helen Mirren pronounces that, because of the creation of Barbie after which her many career-focused iterations (Physician Barbie, Scientist Barbie, President Barbie, and so forth), “all issues of feminism and equal rights have been solved” in the true world.

“At the very least,” she says, as the gang snickers, “that’s what the Barbies suppose.”

The Barbies dwell in Barbieland, an analog for the Backyard of Eden, the place each day is a sunny and excellent day — particularly for our heroine, Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie). Her house is a Barbie Dream Home in Barbieland, the place the Barbies run all features of the world. She has a load of buddies, all named Barbie, and a boyfriend named Ken (Ryan Gosling) who hangs out with the opposite Kens on the seaside. He isn’t a lifeguard, neither is he a surfer; his job, he insists, is “seaside.”

Someday, in the course of a celebration, Barbie abruptly begins excited about demise, for no purpose in any respect (particularly as a result of she’s a plastic doll and one that’s, as you most likely know, nearly indestructible). When a tragedy strikes — I gained’t smash it — Barbie is pressured to go away paradise and go to the true world, and Ken hitches a journey. When theyget there, they uncover that they’re abruptly self-conscious and conscious of being checked out (this film’s model of Eve and Adam discovering their nakedness). The plot quickly thickens, as a result of not solely does Barbie understand that girls would not have the identical type of standing in the true world as they do in hers, however males can leer and jeer and make crude feedback and silly choices, and it’s simply kind of what they do. In the meantime Ken … discovers patriarchy.

I ought to say at this juncture that whereas Robbie is a reliably wonderful Barbie, it’s Gosling who completely steals the present, partly as a result of the character of Ken is terrific and partly as a result of he’s dedicated so exhausting to the bit that simply taking a look at him transfer his arms is by some means hysterical. Gosling’s face is just a bit odd, a little bit asymmetrical, and he pulls off “large doofus with an enormous doofus face” and “vaguely sinister fool” with equal aplomb.

Ken’s discovery of patriarchy (which appears to have loads to do with the subjugation of girls and with horses, so far as he can inform) is the means by which a kind of authentic sin leaks into Barbieland, although by the top of the movie it’s clear that this isn’t a usually shallow Hollywood tackle feminism. Certain, Barbies had been created to show women that they could possibly be something, however what else did they do? (By the top, we study that in a very ideally suited world, the Barbies and the Kens would dwell in concord and equality — and that gained’t occur in a single day.)

However the path the film traces is greater than a little bit theologically acquainted: a paradise misplaced, destroyed by the “information” of “good” and “evil,” and a path again to restoration (with some bonus reflections on being created for a objective by a Creator). And there appears to be some built-in interrogation of the Genesis narrative, too. Would it not be higher, in any case, for Barbie and Ken to have continued residing naively in a paradise the place Ken is simply “and Ken” and everybody appears joyful on a regular basis? Or did gaining information of the surface world truly make them conscious of their free will and equip them to dwell higher, extra fulfilled lives? It’s a query some theologians have approached all through historical past, and one which recurs after we take into consideration historical past: Golden ages usually seem that approach as a result of we had been naive to what was “actually” happening again then, not as a result of they had been truly higher.

Let me not provide the flawed impression right here: Barbie is a powerful achievement as a movie and much, far funnier than any studio comedy I can bear in mind in current historical past. There are good jokes about every part from stilettos to boy bands to fascism and Matchbox Twenty; I’m nonetheless laughing at a few of the gags. Barbie most likely isn’t for very younger youngsters, although the spectacle might get them engaged, however tweens and up will discover one thing to like.

But enjoyable and thoughtfulness can go collectively; a blockbuster (or a doll) needn’t be brainless to be enjoyable. Gerwig’s solo directing profession up to now (which incorporates Woman Chook and Little Ladies) is a triumph of reimagination, an exploration of what it means to search out out who you’re and never permit your self to be formed by nostalgia and sentimentality whereas additionally residing with deep, actual love. That she managed to infuse the identical sensibilities into Barbie is one thing close to a miracle. I can’t wait to go see it once more.

Barbie opens in theaters on July 21.